We Need to Talk About Kermit (Gosnell)


[Trigger Warning: brief descriptions of Gosnell’s crimes]

Last week, a tweet came across my feed announcing that the grand jury proceedings had been released and that Kermit Gosnell had gone to trial. I knew who Gosnell is, and why he was on trial. I read the tweet as nothing more than an update on a story that was a few years old – there was no doubt that Gosnell was going to go to prison for a very long time.

Then the internet decided that because they hadn't been paying attention, the media was engaged in some sort of cover up by not talking about Gosnell every day.

It seems silly to even address the idea of a media cover up in this story. Those who are going to believe that there’s a vast conspiracy here aren’t the type of people who are going to be reading my blog. And frankly, I’m uninterested in that narrative as it’s, well, entirely asinine. What I am interested in is what the Gosnell case has to say about the interplay and intersections between poverty, education, sexual health, and the State.

To be absolutely, totally, clear: I’m pro-choice. Have been for a while. I think access to safe and legal abortion is an important part of reproductive health and that the stories anti-abortion folks tell about women who get abortions are often naïve and self-serving (she’s a slut who just doesn’t understand what she’s doing!). I think allowing these narratives to dictate the abortion conversation on a policy level is a miscarriage of both mercy and justice. This is the framework with which I approach the Gosnell situation.

Here’s what we need to keep in mind:

Gosnell is a butcher, not a doctor. He was an abortion doctor in the same way a man who punches you in the mouth is a dentist. He was allowed to do what he did for so long because of a collective failure of the community government – the health department did not check in on him, despite numerous reports from other abortion doctors in the area. What he was doing – delivering live, viable infants and then killing them – is already absolutely, fundamentally illegal.

The intersectionality of this issue cannot be ignored. It is vastly important that most of his patients were poor people of color, that they were already in impoverished circumstances and that an unintended pregnancy, for many of them, meant losing their job, their housing, their social safety net. And that the tenuous position they were in also meant that it was impossible to raise funds for legal abortions or to access a clinic in their area without having to travel. To have a conversation about Gosnell’s actions is to have a conversation about race, poverty, and education.

To change the conversation into one of how “the media” aren’t talking about abortion and are purposefully covering up Gosnell is to once again ignore and erase the already marginalized. It is to take the easy road of partisan bickering rather than looking at the hard facts of the case, the institutional structures that put these people in a position where Gosnell seemed like a viable option.

That is the story here. That is what is important. The trial of Kermit Gosnell brings forward this one truth: that making abortion harder to get does not solve the problems facing a person who finds themselves pregnant when they do not want to or cannot afford to be.

Abortion is not an isolated issue. It does not happen in a vacuum. It is nonsensical to ignore the myriad reasons people get abortions and it is nonsensical to pretend that there is a singular narrative. A conversation about Kermit Gosnell is necessarily a conversation about poverty, justice, and health care.